The break-up of families is a major factor in British life today. A new study reveals a shocking statistic: half of all Britain’s couples split up before the children have reached the age of 16. The implications of this are huge. These young people are already embarking on their lives with the complications of divided loyalties, confusion, being ferried about between different – and competing – groups of relatives.
Many of these couples have never been married. The break-up rate for cohabiting couples is higher than for those that are married. And the outlook for their children is bleak: uncertain of what place is actually “home,, uncertain of what surname they will carry through to adulthood, uncertain about the exact nature of the bond they should have with the various adults in their lives, they tend to be wary of all commitment. For many, school is the place where they find the most stability.
Whatever policies may be adopted by the current or any future Government – and so far there has been little evidence of any deep commitment to supporting lifelong male/female marriage as the agreed basis for social policy – the children born and growing up in the past decade are already with us, and have already lived through some of their most formative years. So we can expect real difficulties as this generation reaches maturity and they become our lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business people. What patterns of life will they expect to follow? How emotionally stable and secure will they be, and how capable of creating bonds of community and sharing a sense of common responsibility? On what basis, and with what values and approach, will they make decisions? How will they feel about the older generation?
Britain badly needs a change of direction in its social policies – it needs a fresh focus on marriage reflected in welfare institutions, health centres, and schools. We also need a fresh approach to schools which will permit teachers to impose reasonable discipline – at present, this is difficult as pupils are vocal about their “rights” and teachers can be suspended following any allegation of behaviour that a child alleges has been in some way inappropriate.
The Church is a voice for sanity, and for hope. As great crowds gathered in London’s Hyde Park and Birmingham’s Cofton Park to pray and attend Mass with the Holy Father in September, there was a magnificent atmosphere of faith and prayer. We are going to need a great deal of both of these in the years ahead.